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Feature: War of the Worlds

They're here…

Shooting on War of the Worlds is still underway, but Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise took time out to tell us about their latest hit collaboration…

On the afternoon of February 10, 2005, I was instructed to meet outside of the Circuit City on the Old Road in Newhall, California, by 4:45pm. There they were, the usual genre suspects – oops, journalists – all waiting to take a chartered bus to the town of Piru, where Steven Spielberg was shooting his version of the HG Wells Science Fiction classic War of the Worlds. Jokes were made about perhaps being blindfolded so we couldn’t disclose the location, but the real reason for the bus had to do with security.

After about a 20-minute trip, we were strolling down the a Piru street which was dressed to look like Athens, New York, and felt eerily like a studio backlot – it was hard to discern what part was real and what was only built for the production. The train station was real, the Hudson Valley Antiques Shop was fake; the small Blue Bird bar was real, and thankfully open for our business.

The scene they were shooting takes place midway through the story when Tom Cruise, as Ray Ferrier, and his children, (played by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) are slowly driving down the street in their light blue Plymouth Caravan, surrounded by people from the town whose houses have been destroyed by the aliens. This sequence included 700 extras, some with dogs, others with wheelbarrows and wagons carrying their possessions, several with suitcases, one man in a wheelchair, many with camping lanterns, and a few holding signs about friends and relatives that are lost – one read ‘Missing – Eric Dugel’. Using smoke and rain machines, which misted over the action, we could see what a brilliant visual composition this was, with the lights of the lanterns shining through the rain.

The camera was secured on the back of a truck, which moved down the road in front of the car and townspeople, with Steven Spielberg inside a separate van, surrounded by monitors and watching the action. The crew asked us to stand underneath a protective tent, so we wouldn’t get wet – this tent also housed a coffee bar that was there specifically for the crew, with a framed sign on it that read ‘Compliments of Tom Cruise’. I ordered a Blended Vanilla Mocha Frost – thanks Tom.

After three takes the action accelerated, with the crowd getting more agitated and aggressive and now running by the car – we were told by Deborah, the unit publicist, that eventually the vehicle crashes and Cruise and the kids are dragged out of it by the mob.

We watched six takes before returning to the Heritage Valley Inn to await the arrival of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise who, to our amazement, had agreed to speak with us about the movie. We all managed to fit into the intimate dining area, where we shifted the furniture around, transforming it into a cozy space for a mini press conference. It wasn’t long before Cruise walked in, smiling broadly and saying, “Hey, you all. Thanks for coming out here. This is wild, isn’t it? I have never done this while shooting. Have you ever done this?” he asked Spielberg, as he entered the room. “Never, ever,” stressed the director, adding, “Everybody shoots the movie, then we talk about it.” Cruise continued, “I never talk about it until it’s done. I don’t answer any questions. We’re kind of doing everything different on this one, aren’t we?” To which Spielberg gave him a knowing look and they both burst out laughing.

by Judy Sloane

Get the full interview in
Starburst #322

Photo © Paramount Pictures
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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Starburst #322
April 2005
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